Well, it’s 2018, and time to go racing again. The first stop of DSC’s year is, as usual, the Dubai Autodrome, for the 13th running of the Dubai 24 Hours. This year there’s over 90 cars on the entry list again, which should make for a (very) busy circuit and close racing up and down the field.
Before we get onto the teams and drivers in the race, there’s a couple of things to note. This year, there will be no reference lap times for the teams and drivers to achieve in A6; before A6 Am runners had to obey a 2:04 minimum time, to encourage consistency and balance the Pro/Am teams.
In addition to that, there will be more attention given to the Touring Car 24H TCE runners. There’s a good mix of GT and TCE numbers on the entry, and after the race, the winning touring car team all ride camels to the podium; a nice touch.
And finally, for the first time, there’s a dedicated GT4 class, which has some notable teams and cars entered.
With that in mind, here’s a look at all the key runners and riders who are gunning for glory in the Middle East this year:
At the top of the shop this year there’s 11 Pro contenders, who will be searching for the overall victory, as well as class honours.
Three of them are Mercedes AMG GT3s, two from previous winner Black Falcon and one from 24H Series regular Ram Racing.
In the Black Falcon camp, there’s the usual; mix of house-hold GT names and local heroes.
Driving the #2 car, Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haupt, Yelmer Buurman and Gabriele Piana will share driving duties and in the #3, Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz and Manuel Metzler have been grouped together. Both line-ups are strong, and will almost certainly be in the mix for the win if they stay out of trouble.
Ram Racing’s line-up too is a promising one, with Euan Hankey, Tom Onslow-Cole and Remon Leonard Vos the named trio. Ram has plenty of 24H experience from the past few years, as does Onslow-Cole. Can Vos and ELMS GTE race winner Euan Hankey gun for the win here?
Another marque with multiple promising entrants is Audi, which let’s not forget, was victorious just two years ago with WRT – the team on the bill again with a single R8 LMS. WRT’s MS7-entered R8 featured Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud, Michael Vergers, as well as Blancpain Sprint Cup championship-winning driver Chris Mies and Sepang 12 Hours winner Dries Vanthoor.
It may not be the most decorated line-up in the race, but WRT in a 24-hour race, as we know, should never be counted out.
In addition to WRT’s R8, MWT Mucke Motorsport, best known for its ADAC GT efforts, brings another LMS to the grid. Top to bottom, it’s not a world-class line-up, but instead a solid one which should be consistent. Longtime Audi GT driver Markus Winkelhock will be the star of the show here.
Optimum Motorsport does too, with a trio of drivers in its car, Christopher Haase and ex-British GT Champion Bradley Ellis and Oliver Wilkinson will make for an intriguing line-up, which the British team will hope can keep it in the running for a podium.
The rest of the Pro class is made up of two Porsche 991 GT3 Rs, a Lamborghini Huracan GT3, Renault R.S.01 and the brand new Lambda Performance Ford GT3.
The two Porsches will be run by Manthey Racing and D’station Racing.
WRT in a 24-hour race, as we know, should never be counted out
Olaf Manthey’s entry has the talents of Sven Muller and Mathieu Jaminet as the featured drivers in its line-up. The other, run by Japanese team D’station, will see Le Mans winner Seiji Ara, Tomonobu Fujii, Tsubasa Kondo and Satoshi Hoshino combine in its car.
D’station, which raced in Blancpain GT Series Asia last year with Hoshino and Ara, and in Super GT with Fujii, is a welcome addition to grid. The team, formerly known as the Excellence Porsche Team, brings added variety here and could well spring a surprise.
The Huracan will be run by none other than Grasser Racing, the team, which will travel straight to Daytona after the trip to Dubai for a second 24, and may prove to be a real dark horse with its line-up that’s made up of Mark and Rolf Ineichen, partnered with Christian Engelhart and Mirko Bortolotti.
The only question is the car; the Huracan has rarely impressed over longer distance races globally. Many will remember HB Racing’s entry suffering a major fire in the last Dubai 24, something the team will hope doesn’t happen again. Can the team have a reliable run to the finish and set themselves up perfectly for the impending GTD dogfight later in the month in Florida?
GP-Extreme will race the Renault, the team fresh from a run at the Gulf 12 Hours in December, while Lambda Performance will trial its new Ford in the race with two very talented drivers as part of its four-driver line-up, Nico Verdonck and ADAC GT star Daniel Keilwitz.
The question is, how will the Ford GT3 fare in a field of tried and tested machinery?
The A6 Am class, is 15 cars strong, and features many familiar teams and drivers.
Let’s start with the reigning Dubai 24 Hours champion, Herberth Motorsport. The Germany outfit, which stormed to victory last year with Le Mans winner/WEC Champion/F1 driver Brendon Hartley as part of its line-up, is back with a single Porsche 991 GT3 R.
Its driver crew for the race this year, doesn’t pack quite the same punch, but the combination of Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer and Dennis Olsen is one you can’t count out. Herberth’s experience, and all-round nouse when it comes to long-distance racing should keep them in the fight for Am honours, and the overall crown.
The other Porsche in the Am division is from Gulf Racing Japan, another Super GT team making the trip, with the intriguing driver crew of John Wartique, Nicolas Saelens, Philipp Sager, Hisashi Kunie and Kimihiro Yashiro.
Elsewhere in the Am class are plenty of familiar teams and indeed drivers, who could mix in for overall honours if attrition sets in.
There’s a selection of seven AMG GT3s, making Mercedes the best represented marque in the class, from HTP Motorsport, Reigning 24H Series A6 Champion Hofor Racing (below), PROsport Performance, SPS automotive, MP Motorsport and Black Falcon.
Among those there’s some key driver, SPS’s line-up includes GT3 stalwarts Lance-David Arnold and Dominik Baumman, HTP will race with the ageless Bernd Schneider, Black Falcon’s quartet includes WEC GTE Am champion Rui Aguas and ProSport has Nurburgring 24 Hours winner Adam Christodoulou aboard its example.
Another marque with multiple cars is Audi, 24H Series and VLN regular Car Collection Motorsport brings two R8 LMS’ to the race, with its headline driver being ex-Nurburgring 24 winner Frank Stippler, confirmed for its #33 entry.
Herberth’s experience, and all-round nouse when it comes to long-distance racing should keep them in the fight for Am honours, and the overall crown.
There’s also two two further Huracans, one from Grasser, with Rik Breukers set to drive, the Dutchman using this weekend’s big event as a dress rehearsal for his trip to Florida with the team later this month to race in the GTD class of the Rolex 24.
The other is from Attempto Racing, which will compete with a very respectable line-up of Clemens Schmid, Pieter Schothorst, Stein Schothorst, Alex Riberas and Steffen Görig.
Outside of the norm, GP Extreme will have its second Renault R.S.01 in the running, with the ex-FIA WEC pairing of Roald Goethe and Stuart Hall, who are looking to put behind them their tough run at the Gulf 12 Hours last month in which their car was involved in a hefty shunt due to no fault of their own.
And the final entry in the class, which will prove to be a fan favourite, is V8 Racing’s Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1, which isn’t the fastest car in the class, but could prove to be competitive in the long run.
This year there’s a dedicated GT4 class for the first time, a reflection of the increasing interest globally for the lower-level customer GT formula.
12 cars are due to take the start this year, from six makes. There’s variety in GT4, and a whole lot of new kit for this one, which could well provide one of the best class battles in the race.
Of the newer cars, the race will see the customer debut for the Mercedes AMG GT4, Audi R8 LMS GT4 and BMW M4 GT4, the three new machines making up over half of the field.
For Audi’s R8 LMS GT4, Phoenix Racing will race with a pair (below), BMW’s M4 will be represented by Sorg Rennsport single car effort and a pair of 3Y Technology examples and the new Mercedes will be taken into battle by HTP/Winward (above), Besagroup Racing and Black Falcon.
They’ll be up against some of the more tried and tested GT4 cars, including two Ginetta G55 GT4s from Optimum Racing (last year’s SP4 GT4 winner) and Danish team Perfection Racing, a Porsche Cayman MR from Brookspeed and a McLaren 570S GT4 (making its Dubai debut) with Swedish GT title-winning team ALFAB Racing.
With such a variety of teams, cars and driver talents, picking a winner here is beyond tough, which is while it’ll be a class well worth keeping track of.
TCR and SPX
Outside of the GT3 and GT4 entries for the Dubai 24, there’s plenty of other interest for fans watching at home, from the SPX and TCR classes.
TCR continues to grow, its a touring car platform, which like GT3 in recent years, is expanding rapidly, with teams, cars and series popping up everywhere.
The new JAS-built Civic will be run by RKC/TGM Motorsport in the race, up against competition from Audi, Peugeot, Seat and Volkswagen
For the Dubai 24 Hours, there’s 15 cars on the list, with one car in particular, making its global race debut: the Honda Civic Type R TCR.
24H Dubai is a good platform to test new cars, as we’ve seen in recent years, brand new kit run extremely well, including of course, the Audi RS3 TCR last year (below, en route to winning the TCR class in its debut). The new JAS-built Civic will be run by RKC/TGM Motorsport in the race, up against competition from Audi, Peugeot, Seat and Volkswagen.
After the successes of the last Civic in TCR competition though, the team hopes for immediate success with the new car.
“After the extraordinary success of the previous Honda Civic Type R TCR in 2017, it’s incredibly exciting to be at the dawn of a new era,” JAS Motorsport TCR project leader Mads Fischer said ahead of the race.
“The new Civic has undergone 2800km testing since the middle of October and we’re confident that it will be an extremely effective racing car.
“We know RKC/TGM Motorsport will do a strong job, but Dubai is the car’s debut so we go into the race without pressure and just aiming to do as well as possible.”
The global plan for the new car is for JAS to build 25 examples of the new car (above), some of those already in customer hands ahead of the 2018 season.
In SPX meanwhile, there’s a selection of Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeos from GDL Racing and Leipert Motorsport, which on pace can feature near the top of the leaderboard, especially with some of the more experienced pilots aboard. There’s also a few Porsche 991 Cup cars, and a more odd-ball French Lamera Cup car entered, with none other than veteran sportscar driver Christophe Bouchout aboard.
The 2018 running of the Dubai 24 Hours is set to run from 14:00 on Saturday local time. You can follow the race live with timing and streaming on the series’ website. Live streaming is also available on the series’ Youtube channel.
The Radio Show Limited team will be present for live commentary during qualifying, night practice and the race.
D’station photo courtesy of Blancpain GT Asia, Optimum Motorsport photo courtesy of Optimum Motorsport